When I was a boy my mum moved us into a long gone and extremely run down tenement building in Edmund Street in Glasgow’s east end. It sat beside Tennents brewery and the smell of fermenting beer pervaded the area. As a woman on her own with six children she couldn’t afford to be choosy about where to live and I recall walking around this musty, dingy old flat thinking even then that it was pretty much the bottom of the heap. We helped move our meagre possessions into the flat before heading over to my Granny’s house for our usual Sunday lunch with her. Sadly on that day she was out and we trooped back to Edmund Street in the drizzle to spend a long and to be honest, hungry Sunday. There was no food in the house and no money until the following day to buy any.
That evening as we sat around the old coal fire the door was knocked and I answered it. A man stood there holding a large box and handed it to me saying, ‘Could you give this to your mother?’ before he turned and headed down the dark stairs. I could barely hold the box as it was so heavy in my young arms. I staggered into the living room and bumped it down onto the floor as my mystified mother and curious siblings looked on. My Mother opened it and to our delight it was full of food; from tins of fruit to cakes, from chicken to tuna and how we feasted on that dark, rainy night long ago. It was as if an angel had arrived at our hour of need. My Mother used to tell me about those good folk she called ‘ordinary angels’ who do good things and restore our faith in humanity. This ordinary angel was from the St Vincent de Paul Society and to this day if I see them collecting I always make a donation. That good deed all those years ago made a huge impression on my young mind.
Flash forward to last night’s sleep-out organised by the Celtic Charity Foundation. I got into conversation with one of the members of the Foundation who told me that while he was delivering envelopes containing some money to families struggling in one of our poorer areas, he knocked on a door and it was opened by a burly man dressed in a Rangers top. As per instruction he said quietly and simply, ‘This is from the Celtic charity Foundation.’ The man looked mystified and opened the envelope and realising what was happening, his face softened and tears filled his eyes. It was, my friend told me, a very emotional moment as the man realised that in a harsh world some people still cared.
Those two examples of the good that our ‘ordinary angels’ do in life are separated by four decades but both have made lasting impressions. The work of the Celtic FC Foundation in supporting community based projects in the areas of Health, Equality, Learning and Poverty (HELP) is impressive and has seen over £10m raised over the years to help those less fortunate. Much of this has been raised by ordinary Celtic supporters, many of them far from wealthy, who see clearly that their club was founded on decent principles and wish to stay true to them.
Last night’s sleep-out demonstrated to all who were there some of the harsh realities of homelessness. Of course we all had warm beds to return home to when it was over but even the hardiest there could feel the bitter cold and imagine the reality of facing that each night. It was suggested that those at the event might consider leaving their sleeping bags so that they might be utilised by the Invisibles charity which works hard with the homeless in Glasgow. As I left Celtic Park I put mine on the huge pile which was testimony to the decency of those at the event. One friend left hers despite only buying it the day before for the sleep-out.
A better man than me once said, ‘The poor will always be with you,’ and perhaps there is some truth in that. However, that doesn’t mean they should be ignored and become invisible. We live in a wealthy country and the inequalities we see around us are man-made and as such can be rectified if we choose. Those less fortunate deserve justice not charity but while we await a more just society many do what they can to help others.
129 years after Celtic Football Club was founded to help alleviate poverty and hunger in the east end of Glasgow we are still struggling to eradicate it. There is food bank a few hundred yards from Celtic Park and any walk around the area will demonstrate that the poor are indeed still with us but so too is the spirit of the founding fathers (and mothers) of Celtic. As long as there are ordinary angels who care enough to act there will always be hope.
A long time ago a good man wrote… ‘A football club will be formed for the maintenance of dinner tables for the children and the unemployed.’ As we left Celtic Park in the dark of a Scottish winter morning we passed his statue. I’m sure he would have smiled and nodded approvingly knowing that his people haven’t forgotten his values and still keep faith with the past.
Well done and thank you to all who took part in the sleep out and to all who supported them. You are the ordinary angels this old world needs so badly.